Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Unsettled Meet Grace

It is day eight of the new school year. I am still trying to get my feet under me when it comes to the new schedule, new PLCs, new buildings, new routines, a new common language and new to me ways of talking about the standards. All of my classroom things are in new places, new cupboards and new drawers. There is a new sequence to connect the projector and document camera, new Apple TV and new AirPlay mirroring. There are new log ins and new learning management tools, new teachers and new kids too.

New has high expectations. Whew.

It is easy to get overwhelmed at the start of a new school year. At Singapore American School in the days leading up to our start, leaders surprised me by talking about grace. Give each other, give your families, give your students, give yourselves, give a little grace as you face the demands of getting a new year going.

Grace takes a breath.

Grace assumes positive intent.  Grace gives us permission to fail or forget or forge ahead. Grace helps us to try again, to keep going, to work the tasks, one manageable piece at a time. Grace knows we will get to that sweet spot in the fall where routines take hold and you know all of the students' names and you know where you're going and who's on your team.

Though we are on day eight, I have seen my freshmen just three times, so in many ways it still feels like the first week of school. I am still getting routines in place. We set up our journals: academic and reading/writing. We started class with independent reading. We shared a word of the day. We wrote to each other.

Sentence completions and Dear Ms. S letters connect me to kids from day one. Love the reading and
writing strengths I see in their letters to me already! 

Familiar routines. Feels good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who Do You See?

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for linking us up and creating a community in which to write.  I learn so much about writing (and teaching) by writing with this community. 

SAS runs on a rotating block schedule. We have A day and B day and C and D day. The mornings are soft starts with planning time (for teachers or PLC groups) and flex (free) time or Advisory for kids. Tuesday was our second first day of school.

While I want to write about the schedule and the school and the Welcome Back dinner. While I want to write about the army of folks--from security to landscaping to maintenance to food service-- care taking the day to day operations. I want to write about the futuristic Pathways -- learning spaces that are open flexible and mobile. While I want to write about PLCs or the grading policy, today, I’m a selfish writer. I want to hold this shiny moment at my new school and just let it sparkle.  In the challenge that is relocating to  new country and a new school, this moment made me feel ever so connected to the people I call home.

I was standing in the hallway during passing time with teacher and writer, Josh Curnett-- he teaches ninth grade and AP Language across the hall from me. Supportive and transparent, Josh has shared curriculum and tips and how tos with me since last April. I landed knowing I would learn a lot from him based on his chapter in  Global Perspectives. Here’s is just a moment from a day that sparkled with rain showers.

Josh: “You know Penny Kittles’ work?”

Me: grinning, “I do! I would consider her my friend. Well, you know, I know her from her work and from NCTE and ...”

Josh: “Your teaching reminds me of her.”

Me: “Wow! That is … I am friends with Penny Kittle. Well, not friends, friends, but I’ve skyped into her UNH class a few times to talk about my notebook and we’ve corresponded or emailed..”

I hear myself babbling, so I close my mouth and I fall into Penny memories from NCTE: introducing myself to her after reviewing, The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching, for California English . Emailing her pages from my notebook after sitting across from her at Middle Mosaic, skyping with her UNH summer students about my notebooks, resting in her Book Love words… she is one of the folks I walk with into my classroom each year.

Josh: “All those New Hamsphire folks, Penny Kittle, Linda Rief, …  what you’re doing reminds me of…”

Me: “Really?” I shift from one foot to another then snake one foot up behind a calf. I tell him I once spent a spring break in Linda’s classroom.” An think how formative that event was in terms of my learning and practice.  

He’s standing stoically at his blue door, nodding to kids as the come down the hall. His feet are hip width apart, solid, an athletic stance.

Josh nods, “Yeah.”

Josh: “You know Donalyn Miller?”

Me: “I do.  Yesterday was her birthday!  I see Donalyn at NCTE and ALAN conferences each year… yes, The Book Whisperer? Reading in the Wild? You know her work? ”

Josh: “Yes. Yes. You remind me of her too.”

My mind goes to NCTE last year, a group dinner out. Then my imagination skips to the long banquet table set up of the ALAN conference. I see book stacks and sleep brown hair and a crisp blouse. I  I see Donalyn engaging my son, Collin, in conversation about books and high school. She leans in and he does too, nodding, listening, talking. When I walk up we talk about our children, her daughter in an IB program in Texas and my own difficulties as a teacher-mom. She tunes in to readers, to teachers, to kids -- her spirit opens and she shares.  I love catching those moments when her book spell weaves its way around Collin’s reading life (or mine).

Me:  “Really?

Josh: “Yeah. I see them in what you are doing.”


Josh’s compliment will resonate with me for a long time.  This is a pink stone moment for me because you know, we teachers. We work hard. Teaching is challenging work and there are times and places where people don't really see us. They may not know us or understand us or be members of our tribe. Josh's compliment felt like it came from a place of knowing, of paying attention, and of intention too. His kind words may even set the tone for my year--what powerful words!  What a label full of portent and positive possibilities he gave me and my teaching today.

He also made me think about how I am with educators. Do I spot peoples' strengths? Do I name their talents? Does what I say build others up? Am I that intentional in how I talk with teachers about their practice? Am I that affirming of others?

I need to go back to Choice Words and revisit Peter Johnston. I am going to learn a lot from Mr. Curnett this year. How lucky am I to have him right across the hall?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Share Your Why in PLCs

It's hard to say what I've appreciated the most about my new school's on boarding process: the settling in week at a beautiful hotel, the new teacher introduction to Singapore American School week or the vulnerable and honest communication from administrators and PLC team members as we get started planning the work of the first weeks of school this week. It's the start of  week three, pre-planning for the whole faculty. We've had two days of speeches and meetings and today we have a break for Singapore's National Day. It's a national holiday here, so schools and many businesses are closed. I am grateful for the time to take in and process what I've learned so far. Topping that list is working in teams and  PLCs.

Singapore American School is tight on PLCs. Teachers meet weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, in two different PLC groups. Yesterday we talked about PLC culture and expections. We played PLC Chutes and Ladders and discussed several toxic PLC scenarios that were achingly familiar.

(Chutes image, rogue slide)

I am in the ninth grade English PLC and in the Catalyst PLC. More on Catalyst later. In essence it is kid-driven inquiry that is literalky out of this world in some cases. Last year kids designed an experiment, sent it to THE space station, astronauts ran it and beamed the data back. I will co-teach one section of Catalyst the first semester.
My PLCs are high functioning and healthy. And one reason that must be is because administrators have modeled and modeled so much of what teachers are expected to do.

For example, start with story. Build relationships. That began at the aurport upon arrival and continues. Here's a snapshot of stories shared around the table of incoming high school teachers. You know who shared his why and how first? The principal. You know who shared second and third? The deputy principals. Then each new teacher shared.

(Story notes image)

 That relationship building continued in PLCs this week. Each began with members telling stories about theirnexperiences. We thought about questions such as: How did you get here? Why do you teach? We told our stories. With each telling we learned something new about each other. That bond building took much of our first ninety minute meeting. Men and women around the table spoke from vulnerable places and we affirmed and listened and connected, some cried.

Affect, emotional weight matters to memory and meaning making. That resonates with me this week.

Monday is coming. Kids will arrive. I know my room will be ready. But it isn't yet. I know I will have syllabi for my three courses posted and a stable log in and name games and a plan. But those things are not firmly in place yet.  The PLCs here have course materials that have been developed across years. Courses have institional memory and longevity here.

The principal said recently that the PLC process can be tough for teachers who come here at the top if their game. It can be tough because this is absolutely not a "do whatever you want" sort of school.  PLCs work togetjer to plan, create, assess, analyze and decide on next teaching mives. The intervene and extend when it comes to learning too. When teachers are told their grading categories must match in the digital grade book- they must. Instructional decisions are made by PLCs as a group that is a hard (tight) expectation and administrators are clear about that even before you are hired. If you go rogue, you go home.

There is tremendous innovation here in PLCs and across the campus in a myriad of ways. I am honored to be a part of it. I know I will learn a lot from the established curricula, and I love that this school and these people speak my language around topics like independent reading, assessment and grading. #This is Singapore day sixteen.

[I am working in my cell phone without WiFi and will have to upload pictures later. Post in orogress.]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Day 10

It’s near dawn, day ten in Singapore. Tonight will be our last night in the hotel.this afternoon we will do a final walk thru of the condo we chose last week. Workers have been busy painting. Instead of dark red walls and an orange ceiling, it is now a fresh white.

Elvis will have left the building. By this tomorrow my husband will have left the country. He is headed back to Florida and Walt Disney World. He will enjoy a Singapore vacation home in October when we will next see him.

Tomorrow we will transition out of the hotel and into new home. We will have more clothes than closets and more books than shelves. We will have two beds and two dressers and mismatched service for twelve.

Today we have new teacher orientation. I will learn power school and admire the cabinetry of my classroom.i will anticipate the magic and envision unpacking the classroom library.

I will finish reading the student handbook and meet with the guidance counselor to support Collin as he chooses classes. Today I will pick up the laundry and get coffee from the cafeteria, complete my medical screening and have a chest x-ray. I will meet my agent and sign a lease and pay a comission and take two cans. I will listen and sketch and take notes and imagine the new school year today too.

Tomorrow we will walk home from school to our happy gate and begin again this new life in Singapore.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Origin Story

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for crafting such a caring writing community!

I agreed to interview with the high school division of Singapore American School during Art Basel Miami. Our family enjoyed Art Basel in Hong Kong for my birthday last March, courtesy of an amazing Art Basel rep, so we bought tickets to the show in Miami in December.

I researched South Beach hotels and Air B&B spots and settled on a "boatel", a Californian Yacht, circa 1989. With two bedrooms, two baths and a full kitchen, it was much more spacious, private and affordable than a hotel room in South Beach. The boat had wifi, so I figured I would be fine for a Skype interview with Singapore American School.

I am a native Floridan. My city is not quite as densely populated as Miami and while I-4 can be dreadful, it has nothing on Miami traffic jams. Of course on the way down to the boat, we got caught in traffic. We'd given ourselves six hours from home to dock, plenty of time I thought to get settle and be interview-ready.

"Are we going to make it? Should I set up your phone as a hot spot?" I worried from the passenger seat.
"We'll get there. We're going to make it."

I clock watched: 6:00, 6:30, 6:45. We had a 7 pm appointment.

At 6:55 I am reading the directions aloud: pull up to the public park, see the tennis courts, pull in to the drive, unload baggage, park in the public lot across the avenue, venture to the end of the dock, use the code on the combination lock.

Was this for real? Would the combination work?

Collin and I were rolling suitcases down the aluminum dock when the phone rang. Our boat was tied up at the penultimate slip.  We were climbing the aluminum stairs. In front of the boat a tennis club--teens taking lessons. Behind us, mansions and stars. Rick was parking the car.  The phone chimes.

Skype. Singapore calls.

I wave at Collin. "Figure out how to get in! You have the directions on your phone..." I flick my hand up and climb into a white bean bag chair on the bow of the boat, right arm stretched, selfie-style in front of my face. I put the traffic behind me and smile.

"Hello?!" I answer.

Stephen, Amy and I talked for more than an hour. I could see shoulders and elbows. I couldn't see their faces during the interview. I figured it was the phone screen or some such tech issue. I was speaking forcefully (think loud and proud) into the phone as I faced the tennis courts. We talked about literacy and about PLCs and about people and about parents and about kids and passions.

We talked about successes. And we talked about failure. We shared stories and my heart opened. And there was silence from Singapore for a few minutes.

I knew that no matter what ... this was a moment, an important moment and I was all in.

Thankfully, Collin and Rick figured out how to unlock the boat and get in. Once the interview ended, I made my way aft and descended into the cabin. Rick's first words, "Mama picked a winner again!" He was stretched out on the couch in the living room watching a game on the huge t.v.  The full kitchen was three steps down.

It was an amazing boat and an amazing art weekend and the best interview I've ever had.

I am delighted to join Singapore American School and I am so blessed by friends and family who have made this move possible.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chipper and Laughing at All Write

Last week I spoke at the All Write conference in Warsaw, IN. Twenty pages of illustrated notes, great sessions and new friends made it wonderful. I will reflect more on the sessions soon, but I wanted to capture meeting some Twitter and blogging folks first.

I made my way up the aisle in the dimmed auditorium to get settled in to listen to Lester Laminack, All Write's opening keynote. I sit in front rows.

In the front row there are less distractions. In the front row, I don't need to wear glasses to see the screen.  In the front row, there is less chit chat from others. I can hear the speaker pause to breathe. In the front row, I can read the expressions on speakers' faces. I am a front row sort of person.

So, I settle in near the middle in the empty front row. I open the last zipper of backpack and slide my black sketchbook out from it's spot next to my laptop. I unzip the second zipper and fish around the pocket for my Staedler colored pencils-- the ones in the stand up case. I pause and look up the long angle to the projection screen. This front row is neck-crick close to the screen.

A woman behind me leans forward and says, "Hey! You're the other Lee Ann!"

"Oh my gosh, Leigh Anne!" Leigh Anne Eck was sitting just behind me. Of course she was an up-front sort of participant too. We originally met online-- on twitter, on our blogs. What a delight to finally meet face to face. Leigh Anne has already started blogging her learning from All Write-- I love how she framed her learning from my session as things she would take-forward into next year. 
Chiper (@chipten) photobombing behind us.

We started sharing bits from school and life. Suddenly, in leans another smiling face. "And I'm Jennifer..."

From YESTERDAY? Jennifer Laffin participates in  Slice of Life blogging hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I'd read her blog about her first trip to All Write just the day before. She wrote about taking the plunge to attend All Write alone four years ago and how braving the conference by herself changed her professional life. I commented and hoped to connect and as if by magic, or God's unseen, happy hand, here she was right behind me.

Jennifer Laffin and I at the Boathouse after All Write day #1

"And this is  Chiper," Jennifer said motioned to the woman sitting to Leigh Anne's left.
"Chiper? There must be a story behind that great name!"

"I was a chip off the old block and I'm always happy," Chiper said. As one who has been accused of farting rainbows and unicorns, can I just say I how it tickled me to meet Chiper.

Just like that, I found more members of my tribe:  happy learners who sit up front, take notes, talk teaching, laugh and write.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pilates, Practice and Incremental Shifts

I see blue skies and oak leaves waving in the wind. The sun is out this morning and a summer blanket of cirrus clouds approach.  I am parked in front of the Move Pilates Center waiting for my teacher. I'm early.

I am new to Pilates. I have not completed even a year of practice yet. My body is relearning how to properly align itself. My knees have to be reminded not to fall out and away from the line drawn from big toe to ankle. My sacrum is learning to stick and stay planted so that my center does the lifting. My head and neck often have minds of their own. I'm working at it. I have yet to strike the teaser pose Stacey Shubbitz wrote about here, but I am making incremental improvements in my practice each class, each week.

The small improvements in practice are noticeable just like they are in our classrooms. In Pilates class, I know when I am moving in a way that builds strength when my teachers,
respond to how I’m moving and helps me revise my position. I know how to self-correct too because Ligia and Tharai have taught me to listen to the feedback of the springs on the reformer or to the feedback of the rollers or spine stabilizers.

So often my teacher reminds me to minimize the movement. Incremental shifts. "No so big! You can't control the movement if you make it too big." The tremble of truth in my core muscles tell me she's right.Feedback leads to learning whether that feedback comes from my teacher, my body or the equipment. I need to pay attention to it if I am going to get stronger.

In my English classroom, I give and get feedback too. Students, peers, and administrators inform my practice. Even test scores talk to me about my teaching practice. Standardized test scores for our annual state test were recently returned to schools. I’ve finished crunching my numbers and I am satisfied with what they tell me. Our state test is just one measure. It is a snapshot in an album of a child’s learning and growth over time. Many people and many factors contribute to gains and losses in the context of an academic year. It matters when a child misses a lot of school. It matters that teachers that teach alongside me in this child’s academic year are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It matters when teachers work alongside kids: reading, writing, conferring and encouraging. So much matters in schools when it comes to kids’ futures.

Analyzing testing data is but one layer of performance. Kids’ attitudes matter. How my PLC team works together matters. What my administration believes and knows about effective teaching and learning, all matter. One year these pieces--kids, peers, administrators and scores-- will align. I dream of perfect triangulation: anecdotally, attitudinally, qualitatively and quantitatively.

The numbers are good this year. In my state these scores are a student’s bottom line. Without a passing score of 350 students do not get a high school diploma. I teach high-achieving students. Some think and say, "it doesn’t matter who teaches this kind of kid." Those critics have a mindset that these kids will do just fine no matter who is in the classroom.

Perhaps. Is that really what we want to say to teachers though? High achieving students may pass, but this data set doesn’t agree with that assumption one hundred percent. Most years, most pass, yes. But will students continue to grow?

Last year my principal stopped me in the hall and congratulated me on the growth he saw in my students’ scores. He said something like, people don’t realize that it is as hard to get a kid at the top of the scale to make progress as it is at the lower end.


I know that has been a rallying cry in gifted education in year’s past. Still. In  my teaching heart of hearts, all of the work we do in classrooms is hard work, especially in Title I schools like mine.


I didn’t figure out how to move six students over the line this year. Of the six students that didn’t quite reach the line, all but two grew.

Sometimes we fight for each single point on these tests, so while a move in the positive direction may not have statistical significance, it sure has practical significance. These six students will retest in October.

Overall, I can see that incremental shifts in my practice are working. I changed my feedback loop this year. I made it tighter and I personalized learning goals for each student. I checked in via conference weekly. Wow, did it work! Running a workshop classroom, works. Giving students choice and voice works. Practice--reading every day, writing every day, giving students timely feedback--counts.

I may be twenty-three years into teaching, but I am still learning.  Practice still matters. What I do with kids every class period of every day determines how strong we will be at year’s end.  My students grew by leaps and bounds this year!  While I may not agree with the testing law of the land, I delight in kids’ success.  I am so proud of their hard work. We did it!
fsa data summary2016-17.PNG

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Summer of

A talented teacher-author I know has named her summer the summer of silver. She tags her photos with the name. She's creating and curating memories. I love the sound and the slippery joy of a silver summer. I enjoy getting a peek into the memories she's making on social media. The summer of silver brings water glints and sunshine to mind in ways that I can smell. In a way that makes me smile and hum. 

Do It Yourself, Andy Warhol, 1962

I don't yet know the story behind my friend's naming of summer, but I like to imagine what it could be: an anniversary or an element. I'm in the copper year of my marriage, Copper Summer doesn't sound too bad- I like the patina and pastiche of it. What elemental name could I give summer? Surely not Sulfur and I'm certainly too lazy for Iron this year.  Naming the season or the summer reminds me of how we organize stories-- a name is like a narrative thread we can pull. I like the intentionality of naming.

Intention counts -- not with calories, unfortunately, but with mindsets and hearts. 

It is summer, sweet, sweet summer. I am going to swim and sleep and read and draw and create and love and skate and smile and hike.  I already got the bikes in working order and arts and crafts ideas lined up. I have time to make plans and meet friends, to cook or go out.

We are in our second glorious week of summer and I feel the slip and slide of time. This time last year families were stunned and grieving the lives lost at the Pulse night club. This time last year I was walking around Lake Eola and the Dr. Phillips' Center downtown, praying with the community and marveling at the musicians churches sent out to comfort mourners. So much can happen in a summer.

This time next year I will be half a world away finished with my first year at a new school. Next year, I will planning a trip to see family. 

This summer I want to be in the moment. In the right this minute of now. I want to feel the beauty of seconds and see love in details. 

I want to savor time with family and friends before our big move to Singapore in July. Savory Summer or the summer of savory, sounds too food-centric.  I did my fair share of stress eating to close out the school year, so I need a little less sweet and savory in this summer. So what could I name this summer?  I don't know what or even if I want to name it, but I sure know I plan to enjoy it.

I hope you do too. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lean In

Did you see Fran McVeigh's post today about books she will read? If you haven't, jump over there. Go now.

I'll wait.

I love so much about what Fran wrote today about reading and record keeping. I love how she gets to the heart of what's really going on with her own reading and how that translates into classroom practice.

I love how she uses a question and answer structure to reveal her own thinking and debunk some practices that fly in the face of what real readers actually do. And I love the honesty of her voice. Don't you?

I'm talking about reading on Friday at the State of Maryland International Reading Association Council (#SoMIRAC). Fran reminds me to make room for all kinds of readers and reading and reading practice. Her post reminds me that it's not about the record keeping--even in my classroom--it's about how do I get kids EXCITED about books. It's about how do I get kids to, ask Dr. Ernest Morrell says, "lean in to their learning."

On Friday, we will no doubt talk about how to get to know the readers in a classroom. We will talk about ways to monitor progress, ways to listen to kids and certainly record keeping will creep in to our conversation. But the best part is going to be sharing the excitement. Sharing the stories from my classroom that capture the incandescence of readers talking books and sharing joy. This time of year, in my room reading magic happens.

Just today, I was sitting in the "journal U"- it's seven desks arranged in a U shape on one side of the room. I meet with five to seven readers each day in that space in our classroom. During independent reading time, I confer with students over a piece of writing or their current independent reading book. We are just back from spring break, so this week's conferences are check ins and check ups. We follow a schedule so that I see everyone once a week (at least).

I love how meeting in our U is working. I love rolling around in the you, desk to desk (I sit in a wheeled "teacher-chair" in the center of the students). I love the leaning in and the conversation. I love LISTENING to kids to talk about their reading lives.

Did you read over spring break?
Where are you in the story since we last talked?
What'd you think of the ending?
What made you chose this book next?

Those are few questions I posed to start our conversations about books and reading this week. And I have to ask...

Did you read over spring break? 

Some kids did. I did. Some kids didn't. Isn't that how it always is? 

My job remains: get them excited about books and reading. I can't spend our time together chastising or punishing or lecturing kids about why they should be reading. Instead I can be honest. I can meet them where they are. I can tell them about a great book I recently read and I can share something I've noticed about them and say how it reminds me of this book  (or books) they may like. And I can keep on surrounding them with books and stories. I can keep on connecting them to other readers in the room and online. 

Just today, when I asked one of my readers why she chose the book she did, her answer made me cheer inside. I knew she had a different book "up next" because I'd written in my notes. When I said, "What made you choose this book instead?"

She said, "Oh, I chose it yesterday because on our Padlet of book recommendations someone wrote about it and it caught my interest."   

Made my day. 

Thanks, Fran, for inspiring me today and for bringing my attention back to those moments in our reading lives that grab us. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Community Circles

It's the last school day before spring break. Teachers have a work day tomorrow to finalize quarter three grades. I want to keep our community connected and send kids off to break with positive thoughts. So,  today we celebrated with a compliment circle and donuts! 

  1. Circle the desks.
  2. Give each person a blank pice of paper.
  3. Write names at the top of the page.
  4. Pass the paper to the right (or left as suits you).
  5. Set a ine minute timer.
  6. Write a specific compliment for the person on the page.
  7. At the timer, pass and repeat.
I am always impressed with what kids write to me and to one another. During one class period I saw a lot of students write vague notes along the lines of " I don't really know you, but you seem pretty chill." I asked one of the kids about it after class and he helped me see that the kids in that class period really didn't know each other. As members of our magnet program they've traveled as a pack for a year, but as I realized today, being in a program together doesn't equate with making friendships or building connections with everyone.

Next time maybe I need to do a questions circle, I thought aloud with my son after school. Same concept but each person takes a line and writes a question. The. Then each person gets a day to briefly answer questions before sharing via a gallery pass around the circle the next day. I think we'd learn a lot about each other. I wonder what kinds of questions kids would ask? 


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Language Shakespeare, Language

Picture this: twenty-eight students sitting in the semi-darkness of a high school classroom,  midday. Some sit on the rug, some in the U-shape made by desks, some at tall tables. All look to the screen and watch the second half of the first act of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is about to tell her husband to man up, but what do tenth graders hear?

"I have given su..."

"Language Shakespeare!" someone calls as if calling out a curse or a bad word.

The room explodes in laughter. Kids turn to see my reaction and miss the next few lines.

Did I mention I teach tenth grade?

Even when I prepare kids for the scene many are still caught off guard and distracted by Lady Macbeth's language.

We laughed. And the moment? It worked  as a sequeway to a quick assessment of what kids actually understood. To borrow from Carol Jago, I had kids do a quick four-square to record their  thinking about the scenes we watched, so that I could assess their understanding.
Lots of them thought they didn't understand anything, but in reality many understood more than they thought they did. Loved that.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Exercise in Teaching

"Breathe in. As your arm moves away relax your shoulders. Relax you neck. Sit up, up, up on top of the sitting bones." I hear Ligia, my Pilates teacher as I sit with "mermaid legs" on the reformer,  the tower to my side, right hand on the silver bar.

I shift, shift, wiggle my seat on the mat, try to push my left hip down level with the right. Tight is that joint. There. Sit tall. Breathe in. I feel my chest expand as I inhale. As I push the bar forward with my right hand, I exhale: shhhhhh. Movements are slow and controled. I focus on keeping my hips heavy, ribs lifted 

"Grow your spine. Long, long ...Lee Ann what are you doing with your head? You have the side to side head, the "Walk like an Egyptian"  happening there. Maintain one line from the spine. Inhale into the ribs.  Exhale, push the bar away."

I love how Ligia pays attention. I might not love specific corrections (who does?) but boy do I appreciate it when she walks over and puts two, red, squishy balls on either side of my neck. Those "scaffolds" help me self- correct.

I am learning a lot about language: repetition, humor, consistent direction and clear explanation. Ligia reaffirms much of I believe about good teaching too. I am loving Pilates class.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Winning Teams

"We've got to work together, guys! 'A meditative speech...' geez I don't know three of those of those words! Have you looked at his words?" Ivanna asks Sebastian and Kevin.
"I don't know them. Want to guess?" Sebastian replies.
"Okay, I'll guess," Kevin decides.
"Oh no!" Ivanna yells as team Unicorn loses all its points . "We're all the way at the very bottom again!"

Each time a team member guesses incorrectly the team score resets itself to zero! Groans and cheers are heard simultaneously during Quizlet Live rounds.

And so it went during a few rounds this morning. Quizlet Live randomizes animal-themed teams for a vocabulary review game. It's quick. It's fun. It serves a variety of purposes: activating background knowledge, practicing vocabulary, generating atudent talk and building team spirit.

Each person on the team has a different set of answers but everyone sees the same question. The key is talking about the answers and sharing what you know with your group. Team members that talk and think aloud with each other usually win. Watching how kids strategize informa me too. 


Instead of talking it through, some kids will line their laptops up and stand so that they can read all the screens at once and then gesture at the answers. The game gives every group questions in a different order, but some kids don't want to give away answers to other groups with their conversation. . Sometimes one student will take over a group and answer for all. The best teams talk through answer choices, listen to each other and trust when someone knows it.

 With a minute keft in sixth period, kids demanded another round! They love this game.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Talk Books

Note to self: Give more book talks.

What is my next great read? Can you tell me about the best book you've read recently? I'm going to have a reading weekend as I rest my wrist after surgery, and I'm hungry for new-to-me titles!  

I will tell you about one of my recent reads: Wolf by Wolf   by Ryan Graudin. Graudin's series is an alternate history, which tells a post World War II tale. Imagine the world if Hitler's Germany had won the war. Imagine a young Jewish girl, a survivor of medical experiments, taking on a new life as a "skin shifter." Such is Yael's new life. Yael's mission? Compete in the annual motor cycle race across countries, win and take down the Third Reich. My students love this book for so many reasons: the race, the espionage, the resistance, the love and the journey. Students who enjoy politics, dystopian fiction, historical fiction and adventure are drawn to this series.  I enjoyed Graudin's series too reading the first two back to back in quick time. When I book talked the titles in class a student connected them to Phillip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle  which has a similar setting and premise, so that is a soon-to-read title for me. I love how book talks help readers make connections. Score!

Many of my friends and many of my students are voracious readers with varied appetites. They read different genres or authors than I do. I have a friend who  is always good for great science fiction titles and another friend who summer after summer picks perfect beach reads. Some of us  have similar tastes but others are entirely different types of readers. The mix-- when it comes to making reading plans -- works. Book recommendations give me ways to explore the literary landscape. 

They do the same thing for my students. 

A good book talk acts like a movie trailer or a teaser. When I share an intriguing moment, scene or spin from a book, kids kids get curious. Inevitably the books I talk up are the first books checked out and passed around the room reader to reader. My goal is to share a title a day, whole class or student to student. 

This year another one of my goals is to better organize my book talks, so I have been working on book displays to help do just that. Think: door coverings,  bulletin boards, table and shelf displays (pictures and post about book displays coming soon). 

I admit, I am a book pusher. Surely, you are too. Do tell in comments!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Grade the Learning

Overheard after school: "I don't understand why I have a B in that class when she says I'm one of her best students!" 

Kids get frustrated by grades. Parents do too. Understanding and knowing what grades actually represent is tricky. One of my mentors used to say "grades are a work of fiction." Often, they are. Who defines them? What does a grade really represent? How do they transfer class to class, school to school? 

As a teacher/parent, I tell my own tenth grader that what matters most to me is effort and learning. If he is putting forth effort in his classes and he is learning (and able to article what he is learning), then he's doing his part. 

Our third quarter (a.k.a. the quarter that never ends) comes to a close March 15th. All of the talk I heard about grades today from kids got me thinking (again) about grades today.

When I grade students' works, I want their grade to reflect what they know and are able to do. At some point, if I believe in learning and I am hustling in terms of reaching and teaching all of the learners in my classroom. Shouldn't everyone have an A if I'm meeting their needs and we're both doing our work?  I don't mean the gratuitous, Oprah-esque, "You get an A and you get an A and you get an A and..." ad infinitum. 

I mean that if students are working toward learning and mastering concepts or skills in my classroom then the grade they earn at the end of the learning should reflect what they know. And that's not always an average of all of their attempts at knowing. The grade they end up with should capture their best thinking, their best doing, their best understanding. 

What does it mean to value learning? Does it mean we honor practice and give participation grades? What does it really mean when we say we value what kids know and are able to do? Does it mean that as students' understandings or skill levels improve their grades reflect that improvement? In my class it does. In my class it means grades are in a constant state of "rough draftness"-- revised until the end of the quarter and even then the learning and revision continues.

What does that mean in terms of what a parent or a child sees in our grade books? As the parent of a high school student, I wonder.  My tenth grader's grades in his classes are so very, very different. There are different categories, different weights to categories (some teachers count tests more than 50% of the grade and others count homework or don't). It's complex and idiosyncratic. Teachers control their grade books. As a teacher anything else would give me pause or reason to protest, but as a parent... I wonder.

How does my grade book show you what I believe? 

Here are two students (identifiers removed)-- one currently has an A and one is still working toward an A.

 Here's the A student:

And here is the student still working toward the A:

It's not too exciting to look down a list or scan grades by category to see what's going on, but I do think what we note in our grade book sends a message to kids and parents. 

 What messages do you see here? What's not here? 

I wish I had notes in comments about Resource (tutoring) time on Tuesdays. That's lacking on these two screens. I'm also not to pleased with the comment I have about the poetry explication exercise from 2/24. Some of my assignment titles seem squarely aligned with standards and others denote activities in class. I have a lot of room to grow when it comes to communicating what kids know and can do. That's the learning I love about being a teacher. 

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Story Challenge. This month of daily blogging always pushing my thinking as a teacher and writer and I do so love the sweet community that forms. Stop by Two Writing Teachers and your own slice to the link-up or dive into comments to discover more.